Obstetricians and gynecologists are responsible for a woman’s reproductive health as well as the health of the unborn child carried by their pregnant patients. OB/GYNs are responsible for the care of the baby from the time it is in the womb until delivery. It is estimated that more than 50% of obstetricians and gynecologists will face at least one malpractice lawsuit during their professional careers.
There is a difference between medical malpractice and medical maloccurrence. Medical malocurrence is an adverse outcome unrelated to the quality of care delivered (i.e., unavoidable risks, unpredictable complications, and informed choices made with the consent of the patient, but in hindsight may not have been appropriate). Medical malpractice involves demonstrated negligence where the doctor made choices that an reasonably prudent doctor in the same situation would not make.
The most frequent cause of obstetrics and gynecology injuries are general medical mismanagement (such as failure to supervise or monitor), followed by negligence in a specific procedure and diagnostic problems.
Some types of mistakes made by OB/GYNs which result in injuries include:
- Negligence during labor and delivery
- Failure to order appropriate tests (e.g., mammograms and pap smears)
- Improper reading of mammograms and failure to follow-up appropriately
- Inadequate performance of pap smears
- Negligence in endometriosis or fibroid tumor treatment
- Mistakes made during laparoscopic surgery
- Improper prenatal care during pregnancy
- Complications of abortion (e.g., loss of childbearing ability)
- Contraception (e.g., failure to prevent pregnancy)
- Failure to detect ectopic or tubal pregnancy
- Inadequate communication with peers as well as patients
- Negligent hysterectomy
These forms of malpractice can have grave consequences including delayed diagnosis of cancer that could be fatal. Cases of malpractice during pregnancy and childbirth can result in unnecessary risks and complications such as disability or disfigurement of mother or child. Downsizing and cost-cutting in hospitals have led to the early discharge of the postpartum mother and newborn. This leads to a lack of proper evaluation of mom and baby. Trends in obstetric care have made some areas of practice vulnerable to mistakes.
OB/GYN practice has changed over the past decade in response to increases in malpractice suits. As a result, the prevalence of Caesarean section births has increased, and the rate of natural childbirths has decreased. However, Caesarean sections come with risks for injury to both mother and newborn and are not always an appropriate course of action.
OB/GYNs can be sued for medical malpractice if they render negligent medical care that results in injury to a patient. OB/GYNs are frequently sued for medical malpractice in cases involving birth injuries where negligence during labor and delivery results in harm to the baby.
The average compensation payout in an obstetric malpractice case that is not withdrawn or dismissed by the court is $423,250. This statistic is a few years old but the settlement value of these cases has been steady in recent years. This average includes birth injury cases worth millions of dollars and much smaller cases. In recent years, claims have been going down but the number of payouts over $1 million are rising.
Yes. OB/GYNs get sued for medical malpractice more frequently than any other type of doctor except for general surgeons. Roughly half of all practicing obstetricians will be a defendant in a malpractice suit during their career.
According to data from the American Medical Association, medical malpractice insurance for OB/GYNs averages about $145,000 in annual premiums. This can be higher or lower depending on the geographic area. Obstetricians pay more for malpractice insurance than any other medical specialty.
OB/GYNs have the highest cost malpractice insurance because they face the most potential exposure to high value malpractice claims involving birth injuries. When a child is injured during labor and delivery, the resulting birth injury malpractice claim can be worth millions and the statute of limitations to bring a lawsuit is longer in birth injury claims in most jurisdictions, including Maryland.Obstetric Malpractice Settlements and Verdicts
- 2021, New York: $2,599,223 Settlement. An expectant mother underwent a trial of labor after cesarean (TOLAC). During labor, the hospital staff detected fetal distress and a uterine rupture. This prompted an emergency C-section. The baby boy was born with a neurological injury. He developed motor impairments, developmental issues, and seizures. The boy’s mother alleged that the OB/GYN’s negligence caused permanent injuries. She claimed she negligently recommended a TOLAC and failed to receive informed consent. The OB/GYN disputed the claims. This case settled for $2,599,223.
- 2020, Mississippi: $2,600,000 Verdict. An expectant mother underwent a routine sonogram. She was told that her baby experienced fetal growth restriction. The obstetrician failed to perform additional monitoring. The woman delivered a baby boy. Four days later, he suffered a brain hemorrhage. The now 8-year-old boy developed cerebral palsy. He could not speak or walk. The boy’s mother alleged that the obstetrician’s negligence caused his permanent injuries. She claimed he improperly managed the pregnancy, failed to perform additional ultrasounds, and failed to refer her to a maternal-fetal medicine physician. The woman received a $2,600,000 jury verdict.
- 2020, New Jersey: $1,080,000 Settlement. A baby boy was born with Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome. He was left with neurological, developmental, and respiratory deficits. The boy also had an enlarged tongue, an inguinal hernia, and an atrial septal defect. He underwent multiple procedures. The boy required round-the-clock care. His mother alleged that the OB/GYN’s negligence caused her to unknowingly deliver an intellectually and physically challenged child. She claimed he failed to inform her of the abnormal prenatal testing results and recommend additional testing. The woman argued that she would have undergone genetic counseling had she known of the test results. The defense denied liability. They argued that the boy received an appropriate standard of care. This case settled for $1,080,000.
- 2020, Illinois: $7,150,000 Settlement. An expectant mother underwent a delivery. The fetal heart rate was non-reassuring. It showed little variability and late decelerations. The baby boy was vaginally delivered 80 minutes later. He had low Apgar scores. The hospital staff resuscitated and intubated him. He was diagnosed with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy. The now 10-year-old boy suffered from cerebral palsy, cognitive issues, and speech deficits. His parents alleged that the obstetrician’s negligence caused permanent injuries. They claimed he failed to recognize fetal distress and timely perform a C-section. This case settled for $7,150,000.
- 2019, California: $308,000 Verdict. A 47-year-old woman suffering from menorrhagia for many years. She received an OB/GYN referral. The OB/GYN recommended a total vaginal hysterectomy. The woman agreed to it. During the procedure, the OB/GYN used sutures to close the vaginal cuff. Several days later, the woman experienced abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhea. She presented to the emergency room. The woman received a suspected bowel obstruction diagnosis. She underwent a diagnostic laparoscopy. The general surgeon identified a stitch that caused the bowel obstruction. She removed it. The general surgeon then performed a bowel resection. This left the woman with scars. She now required ongoing medical treatments. The woman alleged that the OB/GYN’s negligence caused her injuries. She claimed she improperly closed the vaginal cuff. The woman argued that the OB/GYN should have offered less invasive procedures. The OB/GYN denied liability. She argued that the assumption of risk made her not negligent. A jury ruled in the woman’s favor. They awarded $308,000.
If you or someone you love has suffered as the result of OB/GYN medical malpractice, call a Maryland malpractice attorney at 800-553-8082 or get a free no-obligation medical misdiagnosis consultation.
- Medical Malpractice in Maryland (information on malpractice cases generally)
- Birth Injury Claims
- Herpes Encephalitis Lawsuits
- Medical Malpractice FAQ
- Sample Medical Malpractice Complaints
- Example Deposition of Medical Negligence Defendant
* | All Content Written by Miller & Zois Attorney Ron Miller